The Attorney General’s office of Alaska has clarified how families enrolled in state-funded homeschooling programs can use public funds.
Deputy AG Cori Mills was asked by the Acting Commissioner of the state Department of Education and Early Development to clarify how funding for students enrolled in public correspondence school can be spent. The commissioner specifically inquired as to how the United States Supreme Court’s recent ruling, which permitted Maine families who qualify for tuition assistance programs to use public funding to pay tuition at religious schools, would impact Alaska’s correspondence program.
“The allotment program supports students enrolled in public correspondence schools by permitting public money to be spent for certain materials and services from a private vendor to fulfill a student’s individual learning plan,” Mills wrote in her 19-page opinion which was released on July 25. “The nature of the private educational institution providing the materials or services does not impact this conclusion. Neither the Alaska Constitution nor the statutes make any distinction between religious or non-religious educational institutions and online or in-person education.”
Mills went on to clarify that the “Alaska Constitution does establish boundaries on how public money can be spent under the program” and that “using public allotment funds to pay tuition for full-time enrollment in a private school” would be unconstitutional.
During a subsequent press conference, Mills noted that allotment spending borders a constitutional grey area.
“Things like private tutoring, public or private college courses, extracurricular classes or sports, certain educational materials that meet the requirements of the allotment program, are all very likely constitutional, even if they may provide an incidental benefit to private school,” she said, per Alaska Public Radio. “We’re trying to provide at least the absolute yeses and absolutely nos, and then what framework can you work within in those gray areas. Ultimately we just want to help school districts and the department best implement this program.”
Attorney General Treg Taylor recused himself from the matter in early June. His wife, Jodi Taylor, is a school choice advocate who wrote an opinion piece for Alaskan outlets saying using public homeschooling funding for private tutoring or instruction should be permitted.
“I want to ensure that there is no perception of bias in relation to the objective advice provided by the Department of Law on this issue of correspondence school allotments used to fund courses or tuition at a private school,” Taylor said in a statement at the time.
Alaska has over 24 publicly funded correspondence schools for homeschoolers in the state.
In 2014, the state legislature enacted a statute that permitted school districts to give parents or guardians of students enrolled in correspondence programs an allotment to cover instructional expenses, including the cost of books or other materials.
“The way education is delivered and the way the public education system functions continue to change and evolve over time, and this opinion attempts to give guidance that still allows for the necessary flexibility for the legislature and school districts to meet the future needs of Alaska’s children,” Mills concluded in her opinion.